Namibia Makes Final Preparations For Independence
WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) _ Laborers hurried to finish platforms and bleachers Monday as foreign dignitaries began arriving for the celebrations to mark Namibia’s passage from being Africa’s last colony to its youngest nation.
About 5,000 foreign visitors, mostly diplomats and journalists, are expected to join tens of thousands of Namibians to watch the South African flag lowered in favor of Namibia’s red, green and blue banner.
The event, which begins Tuesday and continues into Wednesday, will end 75 years of South African rule. South Africa captured the former German colony during World War I and for decades imposed the same apartheid laws that separate blacks and whites in South Africa.
United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar will be present at Namibia’s birth, along with South African President F.W. de Klerk, South African blac leader Nelson Mandela, at least 10 African heads of state, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
On his arrival, de Cuellar said Namibian independence was a major achievement for the United Nations. ″The world now speaks of the Namibian model, in praise of the determination, restraint, tolerance and political maturity of the Namibian people,″ he said at the airport.
Baker made no comment on arriving at the airport and he and his party were whisked away in a convoy of cars.
Wednesday’s independence date was selected to mark the 30th anniversary of the ″Sharpeville Massacre,″ when 69 unarmed demonstrators were shot to death in South Africa while protesting apartheid laws in a black township south of Johannesburg.
″March 21, 1960, is a day that people rose up against apartheid,″ said Hifikepunye Pohamba, who will become the home affairs minister in the new government. ″The day was chosen as a sign of solidarity not only for the people of Namibia, but also with the people of South Africa.″
Pohamba is a member of the South-West Africa People’s Organization, the group that waged a 23-year war against South African rule and captured 57 percent of the vote in November’s elections. SWAPO’s long-time leader Sam Nujoma will become Namibia’s first president.
South Africa agreed in December 1988 to grant independence to Namibia under a regional peace treaty that also calls for Cuba to witldraw its 50,000 soldiers from Marxist-ruled Angoa by mid-1991.
Namibia for many years had the same laws of racial segregation as South Africa, although most were scrapped in recent years and the huge, arid territory of 1.3 million people has a more relaxed atmosphere than South Africa.
Pohamba said the new government intends to remove ″symbols of colonial brutality″ such as the old police uniforms.
″We feel it an urgent necessity that all old uniforms be taken off and all new uniforms be put on,″ Pohamba said.
However, he said the new outfits for police and prison guards were not ready yet. ″Circumstances beyond our control,″ he said without elaborating.
Laborers at several sites rushed to finish platforms and bleachers, and foreign dignitaries began arriving for the celebrations.
Windhoek, Namibia’s modern capital and largest city with 120,000 residents, has only a few hotels and is able to accommodate only a fraction of the visitors. Private homes, apartments and railway sleeper cars all have been rented out, although some visitors were still searching for places to stay.
The Windhoek airport, which usually handles about six flights a day, must cope with some 200 planes Tuesday and Wednesday. Because of a lack of space, the planes of visiting leaders have to be parked in the neighboring countries of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Preparations for independence have gone relatively smoothly so far, but the new government could face its first political headache the day it takes over.
In the dusty central town of Rehoboth, where virtually all of the residents are of mixed-race, leaders have refused to relinquish the extensive local autonomy granted by South Africa under its policy of ethnic-based governments.
The new Constitution calls for a strong central government and does not provide for local authority along racial or ethnic lines.
Pohamba said SWAPO would be willing to negotiate, but that Namibians ″will not tolerate anyone who wants to dismember the territory of Namibia.″
SWAPO, which was committed to socialism while in exile, speaks more often of working with the white business community that controls the mining, farming and fishing industries.
Those industries, along wih South African aid, have made Namibia one of the few African countries to achieve an annual per capita income of $1,000.
However, the country’s wealth is disproportionately in the hands of the 75,000 whites, who make up only 6 percent of the population, and South African aid is ending.